The logic behind voting for the anti-Conservative candidate most likely to win an election is understandable in the majority of cases, as anything that slows down the spread of the deadly neoliberal virus clearly seems like something slightly less damaging to the dignity and lives of working people. However, the danger with such an outlook is that we risk locking ourselves away in the mind-set that democracy is simply voting every few years for the lesser of two evils. And, with such resignation, we can then be convinced that our democratic duty is done after our absurdly infrequent elections are over, leaving us to get on with our relatively mediocre existence: selling our labour for less than its worth; selling our brains to the idea that a better world is never going to come; and selling our souls to the parasitic corporations that feed us products made with liberal doses of exploitation and environmental destruction. In fact, the real expectation of our society’s ruling elites is not that we vote, but that we work and consume in silence, without ever demanding meaningful control over our own lives. Voting is just a distraction to make us feel like we are the ones in control.
It is not just societal elites that are directly positioned against working people, though, as there is a woefully insufficient amount of political education in schools and a depressing amount of conformity in the mainstream corporate media. The two-party rhetoric so common in the British political system, for example, is not only bolstered by the right-wing press, but even by the so-called ‘liberal’ media. The fact is, then, that truly alternative (read ‘left-wing’) news outlets have very little money and power, and therefore very few readers and very little sway. This is why the neoliberal-friendly New Labour is still portrayed as a ‘progressive’ option in the liberal media when compared with the Conservatives (in spite of the fact that the former retains distressingly few truly progressive policies).
In fact, even media outlets like Russia Today (often hailed for hosting a number of alternative commentators) perpetuate the erroneous idea that only a severely limited spectrum of viable political possibilities exists. Publishing an article by finance ‘expert’ Patrick Young, for instance, RT demonstrated clearly that it has no ideological commitment to the political left. In the piece, Young called Ed Miliband an “anti-wealth millionaire union-backed son of a Marxist”, doing his best to discredit the Labour leader (who at best could be placed no further left than the centre of the political spectrum). At the same time, Young argues that only Cameron has “any policy coherence to continue rebuilding an economy ravaged by the previous administration” (an affirmation which appeared to totally ignore the fact that the neoliberal political order in the UK was definitively established under Margaret Thatcher from 1979 onwards, and not by Labour, which simply bowed down to the order whilst giving working communities a few small concessions).
Meanwhile, Young claims that the liberal media outlets “led by the BBC behemoth” are “socialist” (something not at all supported by evidence), and that they are misleading the public. From his very skewed point of view, he then stresses that the Tories “are the least worst”, with other opposition parties swimming in a sea of “variations of unsustainable economics” (he even suggests that the Greens are “anarchic” which, to be objectively fair to both anarchists and the Green Party, is an considerably inaccurate assertion). In short, then, Young’s words were definitive proof that RT is not a news source that the Left should trust (even if it does allow some progressive voices airtime).
While self-interested economics ‘experts’ like Young may claim that Britain needs to vote Tory, Scotland, ‘The North’, and London are nonetheless poised to shift ‘to the left’ in the 2015 election, with the former moving from Labour over to the SNP, and the latter two seeing shifts from the Tories and Lib Dems over to Labour. The South-West and East, meanwhile, will probably see a mixture of moves towards Labour and moves away from the Lib Dems. And this shift will inevitably depend to a large extent on a continuation of the anti-democratic tradition of tactical voting – seeing constituents vote more to keep one party out rather than to bring another in. To sum up, Labour will be punished in Scotland, and the Conservatives and Lib Dems will be punished elsewhere, but profound change will not occur.
A real transformation in Britain, as I have argued previously, will only come from grassroots activism, education, and community organising. Nonetheless, I believe that the Left does have a role to play in the anti-democratic electoral process that we have. For me, we have a responsibility to vote not tactically, but for the parties that best represent us (perhaps accepting a couple of disagreements here and there). At the same time, though, we should not vote for a party that barely represents us just in order to keep the most reactionary out of power. In other words, we must make sure that our voices are heard (to however small an extent) whilst at the same time refusing to sacrifice our own integrity.
In summary, while the corrupt, anti-democratic political system of the UK will probably never be able to bring about the profound change we truly need, I advocate a vote for the most progressive candidate available. This stance, however, does not mean that we should vote for someone even if we do not agree with the majority of their policies. In this case, my opinion is that a ‘none of the above’ vote would indeed be the only way to maintain our integrity whilst making sure our voices are not entirely invisible.
But our participation in politics must not stop there. We must spend as much time as we can organising, informing, and acting in our local communities. That is our true democratic duty, and that is the only way we can truly make our voices heard.
Any work we do should improve and enrich our lives, not degrade our minds and souls.
Our continued existence does not require exploitation and environmental destruction, and is actually threatened and tarnished by such actions.
A better world will come, but no-one will forge it for us. We can only create it with our own hands, together with those who work and live alongside us.
Death to plutocracy!
Long live direct, popular democracy!